PermacultureWest has been around a long time with a history of serving its members and the broader community. In the early 1990’s PermacultureWest (then PAWA) had the largest membership of any permaculture association in the world.
The First 10 Years (1978 – 1988)
(This is unedited from the Western Permaculture Manual publication.)
Permaculture became well known in WA as the result of Australia-wide publicity from Bill Mollison. During 1978, Denis McCarthy advertised that a group was being formed to follow through on the ideas being put forward by Bill Mollison, and eventually enough people came together to form a group. This group soon formalized itself as PAWA (Permaculture Association of Western Australia), and the first newsletter was published in November 1978.
Right from the beginning, PAWA was an association. It was a coming together of people with a common interest for mutual benefit. This theme has dominated PAWA ever since. As a result, the activities of the association have largely been to allow members to gain more information about Permaculture and to gain access to resources. All the major activities of PAWA were set up in the first year or so and have remained more or less unchanged. These are:
- The holding of monthly meetings with a speaker on some subject relevant to Permaculture, with very little business or promotion of activities outside of PAWA.
- The holding of regular field days. Field days have allowed members to see practical things, but more importantly they have given rise to a lot of enthusiasm because of the exchange of ideas and information.
- The provision of a free library for the use of members.
- The running of a free seed bank based entirely on mutual exchange of seeds between members and others around the country.
- The publishing of a magazine and news sheet.
In the early days there was a great deal of interest as the result of the publicity generated by Bill Mollison, and the membership of PAWA reached a peak of about 250. A lot of publicity was also gained from promotional activities at a series of Down to Earth Concerts. Since then there has never been quite as much interest or publicity, and the membership has never reached those levels. PAWA soon settled down to a steady existence carrying out its basic functions in much the same way despite a constant change of people.
Field days have always been the single most popular activity, and the record attendance at a field day was 130 people. The magazine has also been of great value over the years. This mainly comes from the fact that the magazine has always had the policy that articles should be original local material and not reprints from other sources. Meetings and field days have been written up in detail so that members outside Perth and others who cannot be present can gain from them. In this way the magazine has served as the main contact between many members, particularly in rural areas.
After a number of years PAWA became incorporated, and there has been several attempts to set up branches out of Perth. These rural branches have always had trouble finding sufficient people to form a viable group, and none has survived more than a few years.
Looking at PAWA today, it is remarkable how little it has changed over 10 years. It has been content to provide the same services to its members and in much the same way. There is nothing wrong with this, but the penalty has been that there has not been a lot of publicity to the public and consequently little general knowledge about even the existence of Permaculture and PAWA. This does not mean that a lot of people have not learnt a lot and had a good time. Quite the opposite.
[Ray Hart (PAWA Convenor, 1978 and 1988)]
The Nineties (1988 to 1998)
January 1988 saw a new step in the evolution of the Association, which continued to a peak in 1996, when the Association hosted the sixth International Permaculture Convergence (IPC6).
In January 1988 there was a weekend workshop at the UWA Summer School, and this led to the first Certificate Program in December that year. Picking up on a talk by David Bellamy about Ethical Investment, and the earlier work of the Earthbank Society, a number of members became involved in what became the first ethical investment company in Australia, which is now the very successful Australian Ethical. The Permaculture Demonstration Garden established at Bentley TAFE by Miles Durand became a focal point for many Introduction to Permaculture courses over the next eight years. Many of the forty Introduction Courses occurred shortly after major PR events around the screening of Mollison’s two television programs (In Grave Danger of Falling Food and then the series of The Global Gardener), or his visit to WA in 1993, with each burst of PR and courses creating a surge of interest and new recruits for PAWA.
We had to change venues to accommodate increasing attendances at monthly meetings; The Peninsula Hotel in Maylands and the Odd Fellows Hall in Bayswater saw many crowds of over 200. Membership reached as high as 1500, and the newsletter continued to provide a valuable link between members.
Many PAWA members were involved in PIWA (Permaculture Institute of W.A.), mainly running Certificate Courses, mainly at Bentley, but also at the new demonstration sites at North Fremantle, and Murdoch, and also in Denmark, Albany, and Nannup. Between 1988 and 1996 there were around thirty Certificate programs conducted, all resulting in detailed designs for urban and rural sites, and many visits to great examples of Permaculture principles and design.
Gerald Shepperson led a dedicated crew who collated, folded, labeled and distributed the monthly magazines to members. Ken Newman did a fantastic job of holding the finances together, and Peter Austin edited the newsletters. Others took on responsibilities for meetings, field days, and the seed bank, and we even had a quiz night!
In 1995 we started talking about whether we could host IPC6. Huge efforts by a great number of people, led by Pat Dare, organised a very successful conference at Swanleigh College. Keynote speakers included Bill Mollison, Alan Savory, Prof. George Chan and Ron Watkins. Permaculturists from all over WA, the East and overseas came to talk about their work, and results, and contributed to the huge exchange of information. Many international participants either came early to attend a certificate course, or attended workshops and projects afterwards. Peter Austin, with the help of Pat Scott and many others, did a huge job in compiling the papers for the conference, which are still sought after, fifteen years later.
Probably the fitting reward for all of this work (and that of many other Australians working around the world) was the awarding of the International Banksia Award to the Permaculture Movement. Here, Miles Durand holds the award, which came to WA for a period, before it was transferred to Adelaide for a National Convergence. If anyone knows its present location, could they let us know please?
The lost years (1999 to 2015)
Little is known to the current committee about PermacultureWest’s history in the early 2000s. The association went through a period of contraction, with member numbers shrinking and the organisation moving mostly into a support role for local permaculture groups.
The recent past (2016 to present)
In 2016 PermacultureWest hosted APC13, the biannual permaculture convergence of Australasia. A dedicated group of volunteers consisting mainly of Ross Mars, Charles Otway (then convenor of PermacultureWest), Carole Gorby, Noala Degasperis, Fiona Blackham, Helen Shanks, Peter McMullan, Terry Love and Denise Fernie made the convergence possible. APC13 was held at the same venue as the IPC6, Swanleigh.
As usual, on the day before the convergence there was a PermaFest which was open to the public. This was a huge event that attracted hundreds of people. Capably led by Georgina Warden, many members contributed to make the day an enormous success.
Many courses and tours, (two single day tours in the Perth metro area, and two days tours to Geraldton and Margaret River) were offered before and after the convergence. Keynote speakers at the convergence were Annie Macbeth, Rob Hopkins (via Skype), David Holmgren, and Josh Byrne.
APC13 was held shortly after the death of Bill Mollison, who we remembered via a slideshow, artworks and Charlie MgGee’s first performance of his song ‘Trees eat us all’ at the opening dinner.
Another major event was celebrated in 2019 to conclude the festivities around the 40-year anniversary of PermacultureWest that had started in 2018. This event saw Permaculture’s co-originator David Holmgren travelling through WA on a roadtrip to connect the metro and regional areas, speaking on his new book RetroSuburbia. Stops on the way were Perth, Fremantle, Bunbury, Margaret River, Albany and Narrogin.
After a lot of internal work to align PermacultureWest with the new Associations Act, the committee decided in 2019 to be present with a stall or talk at as many events as possible.
Covid-year 2020 may have stopped us all in our tracks, but we’re hoping to create a bigger presence again in 2021.
[Martina Hoeppner, Co-convenor 2017-2021]